Thursday, July 31, 2014

Da Lat (Central Highlands Vietnam) with VietJet Air: City of Love and Flowers, Bao Dai's Summer Palace, Railway Station, Night Market

Flying over central highlands of Vietnam

On the second day of our Vietnam trip with VietJet Air, we flew to Da Lat in the south central highlands. Just half an hour away from bustling Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and it's a different world that's much more laid back.

Da Lat in Vietnamese means "water/stream of the Lat people"- da meaning "water". The Lat are the indigenous folks there and we were told they are short, plump and rosy-cheeked. Most of them are farmers.

Da Lat is 1,500m (4,500ft) above sea level with a temperate climate. It's supposedly like Genting Highlands in Malaysia, but it being summer, I found it still pretty warm - like 28-30 deg C? Still much better than the searing 35 deg heat in HCMC though. Bet it's really nice in winter though.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Ho Chi Minh City with VietJet Air - Day 1: Pho, Thien Hau Temple, Cyclo Ride, Water Puppet Show, Saigon River Cruise

Arriving in Ho Chi Minh City on VietJet Air
Xin Chào! Hello Vietnam! VietJet Air started daily flights from Singapore to Ho Chi Minh City from 23 May 2014, with fares as low as S$20 one way before taxes (with taxes, a return trip can still be below S$150).

Singapore is the second international destination (after Bangkok) for this young airline that just got off the ground Christmas 2011. It began as a low-cost carrier in Vietnam but is now the second richest airline there in two years, with 30% market share. Every day it operates over 100 flights to 25 destinations. It just launched services to Seoul, and is looking at Siem Reap and Taiwan soon.

Saigon street scene - easily dominated by motorbikes
This means there are now more affordable flight options to and within Vietnam, which is a huge (long and narrow) country to explore.

VietJet Air invited media to experience Ho Chi Minh City, the home base for most of its flights. This is my first time in the city that was formerly exotic Saigon.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ramen Keisuke Tonkotsu King Matsuri Opens at Parkway Parade - Finally Good Ramen in the East!

Tonkotsu Ramen SANJYA

Yay! Finally! Good ramen comes to the East, and right here in my neighbourhood! I was seriously happy when a few weeks back, I saw the Ramen Keisuke hoarding up at Parkway Parade, where Ajisen used to be. I could not have asked for a better replacement - while we have many brands to choose from, few of them can topple Keisuke as one of the best ramen in Singapore.

When you walk into the restaurant at Parkway, you will immediately see this huge, vividly colourful paper lantern fashioned after the illuminated Nebuta floats of Aomori. They often depict warriors, mythological beings and historical characters. What an awesome centrepiece for the ramen counter!

Keisuke takes over where Ajisen used to be at Parkway Parade
The Nebuta paper lantern and the large wall paintings showcase the theme at this sixth outlet -"Matsuri" - the vibrant cultural festivals that celebrate important milestones and seasons in Japan.

The matsuri is close to every Japanese person's heart. It is where they can relax, soak in the atmosphere and enjoy the food that accompanies the festivities. Similarly, Keisuke Takeda hopes his restaurant can earn a similar place in diners' hearts.

Keisuke Takeda photo courtesy of Ramen Keisuke Tonkotsu King Matsuri

Keisuke-san is known for creating new ramen dishes for every branch, and here we have four new tonkotsu (pork bone broth) flavours inspired by the most renowned "matsuri" celebrations. Let's take a look:


Ramen Tonkotsu SANJYA

Sanjya or Sanja Matsuri celebrates the three founders of Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. It is one of the biggest Shinto festivals in Tokyo, and takes place in May.

As an ode to the three "kami" spirit personalities, the ramen features three types of spicy sauces - a red chili, a green chili and a special black spicy paste (Sichuan pepper, shichimi or seven flavour pepper, black sesame and mince pork) that has been created exclusively for this outlet. Each of these three sauces has their own distinct taste, but when mixed together, they form an unusual signature that's more smoky than spicy.

Sanjya or Sanja Matsuri at Asakusa


Tonkotsu Ramen NEBUTA: tonkotsu infused with Niboshi broth made from iwashi (sun-dried sardines)

Visitors flock to the Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori every August to see the procession of enormous and brilliantly painted lantern floats flanked by taiko drums, dancers and musicians. Aomori is also known for little sardines known as iwashi, which are usually sun-dried to concentrate their flavour.

The Nebuta ramen blends tonkotsu broth with niboshi broth made from iwashi dashi (stock). It is the most umami of the four ramen, and even though it seems to be the most "simple", it is probably the easiest to like.

Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori


Tonkotsu Ramen AWAODORI: sweet pork sukiyaki and raw egg

Awa Odori is one of Japan's most famous dance festivals. It takes place every August in Tokushima City, the capital of Shikoku island. Tokushima-style ramen is very popular in Japan with its original topping of pork sukiyaki. Keisuke-san has added his own touch with his secret recipe pork sukiyaki and a raw egg yolk. This is also the sweetest broth, enhanced by caramelised onions and the seasoned pork.

Awa Odori at Tokushima City


Tonkotsu Ramen YUKI MATSURI - Cheese "snow" with miso stock

The Sapporo Yuki Matsuri or Snow Festival is held in Hokkaido every February. More than two million visitors come to see the incredible snow and ice sculptures. Sapporo is well-known for its miso ramen, and Keisuke-san has added a twist to his tonkotsu-miso stock with cheese powder resembling fluffy Hokkaido snow.

Sapporo Yuki Matsuri

While they are all based on tonkotsu broth, each of the ramen creations has its own character. In essence, the Sanjya is smokily spicy, the Nebuta is savoury, the Yuki Matsuri is creamily salty and the Awaodori is sweet. Something for every palate.

Most of the ramen are priced from S$13.90 for the most basic bowl, to S$18.90 for the works. Portions are incredibly hearty. You can, as usual, customise your ramen according to ingredients, noodle texture, broth strength and amount of flavoured oil. The same beloved soy-sesame seasoned beansprouts and hard-boiled eggs are also available on each table.

Apart from the four key creations, this outlet also serves basic tonkotsu ramen, shio (salt) and shoyu (soy) broth ramen made from chicken stock (all from S$11.90). So there are seven ramen varieties available.


There is also Gyoza (S$3 for 3 pieces; S$6 for 6 pieces). Large juicy pork dumplings similar to what you can get at his Gyoza King outlet.

Chicken Nanban with Tartar Sauce
I was thrilled to see Nanban Chicken! In my Kyushu travels last year, I had tracked down the originator of nanban chicken in Nobeoka City, Miyazaki, but the queue for the shop was so long around the block, we gave up.

The Chicken Nanban with Tartar sauce (S$9) here is pretty darn good. It caters to family palates, so the tartar sauce (more like an egg mayo) leans a little to the sweet side. There's also a Chicken Teriyaki (S$8) side dish.

Matsuri Meshi - fried egg, chasyu, tobikko on rice
There are also a few rice bowl options (for those who can't live without rice). I do like the Matsuri Meshi (S$7) which looks so festive with brightly orange tobikko dancing around cubes of chasyu and a fried egg. The rice is dressed with a specially blended shoyu too.

Buta Meshi (pork sukiyaki on rice, S$6.50) and Soboro Meshi (minced chicken on rice, S$5.50) and a fried rice (S$8) complete the menu.

Green Tea Cola and Wasabi Ginger Ale
Keisuke-san also bottles his own Green Tea Cola (right) and now a Wasabi Ginger Ale (left). Both are light and refreshing, but if you prefer, there's Ayataka green tea or Sapporo beer too.

Toys for kids meals
This outlet is quite family oriented, as befits the profile of the shopping mall patrons. They have thoughtfully included traditionally loved toys as part of kids' meals. There is also a drum at the exit that they sound to thank diners as they leave. It's fun.

Festival bells
The soft opening is today, 22 July 2014, and the outlet will start with ramen dishes first and ramping up to the full menu in the week ahead. These festive bells seem to be ringing in the good news - more outlets are being planned! Where do you think Keisuke-san should open up next?

Ramen Keisuke Tonkotsu King Matsuri is at #B1-18A Parkway Parade

Along with the success of his five earlier outlets like Tori King (which he has since introduced to Japan as well) and Tonkotsu King Four Seasons, it looks like Keisuke-san is on a roll. We just can't get enough of the ramen king.

80 Marine Parade Road
#B1-18A Parkway Parade
Singapore 449269
Tel: +65 6440-5548 (they don't take reservations though)
Open daily 11.30am to 10pm (last order 9.45pm) except CNY holidays

Photos (except where indicated) taken with the Canon 5DMkIII kindly loaned by Canon Singapore


Monday, July 21, 2014

Cooking with Chinese Herbs: Three Recipes from Chefs Arron Huang and Yong Bing Ngen

Intrigued by Chinese medicinal herbs but not sure how to use them in cooking? Here are three recipes from Taiwanese chef Arron Huang and Majestic Restaurant chef Yong Bing Ngen, using herbs that are commonly available at Eu Yan Sang. They presented this at a World Gourmet Summit workshop at ToTT earlier this year.

The recipes are not difficult but they make impressive dishes.

Fried roast duck breast and shrimp with Chinese Angelica and Licorice

Baked Fish with Wild Gastrodia, Cnidium and Red Dates

[薏仁/ 芡实/ 圆肉/ 蜜枣/ 杞子/ 海榄/ 银杏/ 鲜百合]
White Tremella Mushroom Herbal Tea with Eight Treasures
[Coix Barley, Euryale Seed, Dried Longan Fruit, Honey Date, Chinese Wolfberry, Sea Olive, Gingko Biloba and Fresh Lily Bulb]

Full recipes here:


Monday, July 14, 2014

Telunas Private Island: Rustic Beach Resort in Indonesia Adds Luxury Expansion; Romantic Sunsets Remain

Remember Telunas? Yes, the wonderfully rustic Indonesian resort on stilts over the sea, where you can escape to for total relaxation and just reconnect with nature, tranquility and bliss.

I blogged about them in 2011 here:

They have done well, and now there's more. They have just expanded to the island across the original resort. Telunas Private Island has 15 sea villas with touches of luxury, spa massage services and even a freshwater pool. Same rustic appeal, same friendly service, only with more comfort.

But the best amenities here, as they aptly described on their website, are the ones they didn't create - the stunning sunsets and sunrises.

Sunset at Telunas Private Island
The sunsets here are so beautiful, I don't even need to edit the photos. All taken on my old faithful Canon 400D (yes, yes, I know it's time to upgrade, but it's still going strong after six years of abuse).


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A for Atmosphere

"Street food is not street food without the street."

That was what Anthony Bourdain drove home at the inaugural World Street Food Congress in Singapore a year ago.

Yes, sitting on a tiny little stool next to passing exhaust fumes in sweltering heat - some say that "adds" to the charm and experience of delicious morsels whipped up right on busy alleys. It could be an aromatic Bún Chả (grilled pork & noodle topped with lots of fresh herbs and leaves) in Hanoi, on tiny tables spilling onto into the streets. Or spicy Indian Mee Goreng from a late night mamak stall in Kuala Lumpur right next to the drain. Crisp lechon (whole pig roasted over charcoal) in sunny tropical Cebu. A cup of Tteokbokki (Spicy Rice cake noodles with fish cake) to eat on the go in Seoul. The varieties are endless.

You may even need to jostle for a place to eat with the locals at popular eateries. But the food is often inexplicably fresh and insanely delicious, making the effort to hunt them down more than worthy of a plane ticket and arduous pursuit.

Yet others clamour for air-conditioned comfort, plush seating and waitress action. A well-known Thai socialite brought all her favourite street food from the streets and into a restaurant setting, so she and her friends could enjoy their Pad Thai, boat noodles and curries in an environment conducive for tai-tais.

A beautiful restaurant setting can also enhance food enjoyment. You can eat more leisurely, be pampered by service staff, soak in the atmosphere carefully crafted by the decor, lighting and music. Chinese food amazingly does well across all scenes - street, casual and fine-dining - whether as zi char in a kopitiam, in a boisterous banquet style restaurant, or a posh and polished joint.

How do you like your food? With the blare of honking traffic or minus the sweat?

I like them all, although I find street food is often more memorable. I love a rundown scene, faded posters in foreign languages and the clatter of cooking utensils.

In the unforgiving heat and stuffy humidity, an icy glass of Coke or Sprite (Coke Zero for me!) always manages to perk me up. I'm always wilting and deflated in hot weather but Coke is the best relief when there is no air-conditioning. That's how I can keep going!

This article is brought to you by Coca-Cola®


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Singapore Food Festival 2014: A Walk Down Memory Lane

It's July! This means the Singapore Food Festival will be on (11-20 July), and 2014 marks the 20th year for the festival. Remember when it was the only food festival in Singapore? Nowadays there are so many food-related events, we are so spoilt for choice.

The theme this year is "A Walk Down Memory Lane", so you can expect dining experiences that emphasise Singapore's rich food legacy.

There are some changes this year though. Gone is the under-one-roof pasar malam style food market. You've got dinners, food trucks and events spread out over the island.

Local chef Damian D'Silva will present South East Sliders @ ION Orchard. It's a pop-up concept featuring radical takes on local dishes. "The vision behind South East Sliders is the preservation of our food heritage. At the same time, we need to constantly innovate and find creative ways to make our food more appealing and acceptable to the younger generation," he says.

Damian's taken Beef Rendang and Chicken Debal, and made them into sliders, using flaky puff pastry instead of burger buns. He's also given them fun names - Lim Peh Slider for rendang and Big D Slider for chicken.

He's toned down the spiciness of the rendang, but it's still got a satisfying amount of heat. The Rendang is seriously kick-ass, although someone said it was a tad on the sweet side. Well, it's still a robust explosion of flavours. The Chicken Debal pales in comparison though. And I don't think tomatoes were necessary (I always think they make any dish too watery).

Another well-known local chef, Malcolm Lee of Candlenut fame, is going places on his Nyonya Mobile. Yes, it's a food truck, which I wish were more common here but the cost and regulations are just so prohibitive in Singapore (so much for entrepreneurial. Along with chefs Kenny Chan and Nelson Li, he will have interactive exhibits on Peranakan culture and cooking demonstrations.

Look out for interesting takes on Peranakan dishes, like satay trio, wagyu shortrib with buah keluak gravy, grilled chicken pongteh, sambal udang, and buah keluak ice cream on a bed of salted caramel, chocolate crumble and chili flecks.

Chef Bala, President of the Indian Chefs and Culinary Association (ICCA) tells us about Suvai 2014, a little Indian festival that is happening opposite Serangoon Plaza in Little India from 17-20 July. Chef Bala hopes to capture the diversity of Indian cuisine and the transformation it has undergone from age-old to contemporary.

For example, Chef Sultanul Arfin will prepare the Grilled Roulade Prata, which cleverly uses prata as a wrap for aromatic minced mutton. It's finished on a charcoal grill instead of an oily griddle, so it's a lot less greasy.

Among Suvai's highlights - Dr Chef K Damodaran from India, who is a huge personality (no pun intended) and highly regarded in the Indian cuisine circle. You'll also find local chefs Devagi Sanmugam, and Rajeswary Sinan of Gokul Vegetarian Restaurant.

The Singapore Chinese Dialect Heritage Feast at Chinatown Food Street will feature up to 20 dialect dishes that are not commonly found - including Hokkien Rickshaw Noodles, Hakka Abacus Seeds and Hainanese Chicken Rice Balls.

There's even a beautiful sunset BBQ on Palawan Beach, Sentosa (above) where you'll enjoy Singapore's first ever sand-dining concept. Yes, we heard it takes two days to shape these sand sofas and tables - they are solid enough to take your weight. The BBQ will feature seafood and meats cooked in a traditional Hawaiian underground BBQ pit called the "Imu" - BBQ sambal stingray, baked king prawns, BBQ whole lamb, grilled beef rump, etc.

ION Orchard will also have a Local Food Trail featuring samples and demos of iconic Singapore dishes like Peranakan kueh, chili crab and kaya toast.

This is not just SFF's 20th anniversary. The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is also celebrating 50 years of tourism promotion and development. Other dining establishments are also offering their own special promotions to mark both SFF and Tourism50 celebrations. See full details at

Once again, a quick recap of the various SFF 2014 events:

South East Sliders
11-20 July 2014
ION Orchard, Basement 3

ION Orchard Food Trail
11-20 July 2014
11am onwards at ION Orchard

Nyonya Mobile
12 July, 6-8pm: Read Bridge, Chef Nelson Li
13 July, 1-3pm: Orchard Area, Chef Kenny Chan
14 July, 6-8pm: Century Square, Chef Kenny Chan
15 July, 6-8pm: AMK Hub, Chef Nelson Li
16 July, 1-3pm: Raffles Place Park, Chef Malcolm Lee
17 July, 6-8pm: VivoCity, Chef Malcolm Lee

Suvai 2014
17-20 July 2014
6-11pm 17 July, 12pm-11pm rest of the days
Little India, opposite Serangoon Plaza

BBQ by the Beach
11, 12, 18 and 19 July
Palawan Beach
Make reservations online here:!/

Singapore Dialect Heritage Feast
11-20 July 2014
Chinatown Food Street, Smith Street

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